Jonathan Langseth Phi351-Miller Final Paper 12/17/06

The Place of Philosophy

In this paper I will be examining some arguments put forth by Jacques Derrida, in his essay Plato’s Pharmacy, and Richard Rorty, in Philosophy as a Kind of Writing, on the nature of philosophy and its position in relation to other forms of writing. Throughout I will use the mentioned texts of Derrida and Rorty to unfold an argument against truth as representation. Beyond my own personal remarks in response to Derrida and Rorty’s claims, I will establish a dialogue between their ideas and a few ideas from other philosophers, in particular later Wittgenstein, Austin and the Pragmatists. Through such a dialogue of ideas I hope to reaffirm the persistence of the question regarding adequate representation and show that in spite of such a question philosophy does go beyond the text. Rorty distinguishes between what he calls Kantian philosophy and non-Kantian Philosophy. The commonality between all Kantian philosophies is the idea of philosophy as ‘mirroring nature’, as Rorty would say. Another way to put this is to say that Kantian philosophy


“With this problem of translation we will thus be dealing with nothing less than the problem of the very passage into philosophy. The writing of texts and the utterance of speeches are both in a sense translations/interpretations of the world/experience into language.” and also. Thus philosophy differs only in that it claims to poke at a ghost that it can never touch (or even determine the existence of). The language of philosophy is at play with itself like all other uses of languages attempting to say anything. What Rorty and Derrida want to argue is that language (and most likely thought) does not mirror anything beyond reflections of itself. in order to communicate what is said must be heard. Likewise the reading of texts or hearing of speeches depends on the reader or listener’s translation/interpretation of the textual presentation. and what is written must be read. or outside/independent of our thoughts. Derrida says. Derrida wants to say that the signifier can only signify other signifiers. as with all forms of communication. It is obvious that in philosophy. 2 . Kant argued that such a reality existed.strives to adequately represent reality. This is to say that the context of the textual is the textual. and that therefore philosophy does not do anything beyond what other kinds of writing can do. but that it was unknowable except for a few inferential acceptances of possibilities (the antinomies). starting from the assumption that there is a reality ‘out there’.

Plato’s Pharmacy). hear. as is easily thought these days. “It is a question of knowing what is done and what is not done” (Derrida. write. How do we know exactly what it is that we write? Faced with the fact that there are seemingly endless interpretations and criticisms of texts ancient to modern. or goes beyond the text. One thing we can know is not done in philosophy is the presentation of a final word. as he thinks. There is no final word because every assertion is received and through being received is re-written.“If reading and writing are one. every reception of language is a response to what is presented. and of whether or not such a text is to be interpreted in a pre-ordained.” This poses the questions of whether or not a text deemed as philosophy is distinct in its method of interpretation. knowingly or unknowingly being at play with language and. if it is true. that the error of the philosopher is to believe his or her text somehow pierces reality. specific manner by a reader. this oneness designates neither undifferentiated (con)fusion nor identity at perfect rest. like all other texts. If Derrida is correct in seeing philosophical texts as. and read? One thing we can know that is done in philosophy is that what is said is said in response to what has been said before. if reading is writing. then philosophy is different than other texts only in its self-deception. the is that couples reading with writing must rip apart. how are we to suppose any determinate meaning to exist in the words we utter. This is 3 .

Derrida’s argument that Kantian philosophy does not refer to 4 .what non-Kantian philosophy wants to say and through saying this. and all other forms of communication for that matter. it wants to correct Kantian philosophy by eliminating it and through such elimination. if there is a real world situation in which a common consensus is established. being distinct by how it affects the world. I think the pragmatists and Wittgenstein would want to say that all language is in a way performative. Yet the pragmatists and Wittgenstein recognize that even if words do not reflect reality. but rather what language does that is important. The pragmatist and Wittgensteinian conceptions of meaning as use and truth as what language does for us practically can be placed in agreement with Derrida’s opposition to the idea of language representing reality: it is not a question concerning if language represents something other than itself. In this respect philosophy would be on par with literature. Interestingly enough there is a strand of philosophy in line with the Kantian tradition that shares many similarities with Derrida and Rorty. they certainly help constitute it. allow non-Kantian philosophy to transcend the philosophical heights and retire back into the slumber of literature. in that its value lies in its application to existence. Derrida’s idea that language is only at play with itself is similar to Wittgenstein’s account of language games. A case in point would be performative utterances. which are only happy. as Austin puts it.

and other areas of Kantian philosophy have all sowed practical use. Bio-ethics. Philosophy may only touch the world outside itself by its practicality like all other language. but both philosophy’s methodology and practicality are distinct. Methodically it differs from other uses of language in its emphasis on rational thought. If we follow the historical strand of Kantian philosophy to the present day. Derrida’s main focus of attack. The practicality of Kantian philosophy (or philosophies in that tradition) can. correspond with the reality it brings about through its use and application. but philosophy is still a genre of communication distinguishable by its own methodologies (even if we cannot say it is by its subject matter or correspondence to reality). despite Derrida’s claim that it does not. has helped us understand the nature and therefore use of communication. be seen in recent years. And philosophy of language itself. Yet if Kantian philosophy had a use then it would. we can see that the search for adequate representation.anything outside of language would make it seems that Kantian philosophy lacks any performative use because it mistakenly attempts to touch reality directly as opposed to through its practicality. Philosophy of mind has replaced philosophy of language as ‘first philosophy’ and is applied in cognitive studies. philosophy of science. It may be the case that philosophy directly refers only to itself and that there is nothing beyond the text that is mirrored by it. I think. logic. if unable to in fact adequately represent (a question still 5 . political philosophy.

needing further discussion). as is any literary genre. it is still able to be applied to the extralinguistic world. not by form or matter. Rorty said of philosophy that “it is delimited. is found its connection with the world.” We must add to this stipulation that philosophy is further delimited by what it does and that in this distinction. at least. but by tradition. 6 .